CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Before Sammy's plane landed, Alex assigned an agent to wire the telephones in the Chatsworth mansion. Because of the earthquake, plumbing trucks abounded in the mountainous area. On the outside the FBI Agency's van resembled a repair truck. On the inside recording and listening devices were wired to the Gavota estate.

       For the past month, Jimmy Zaffuto, a Los Angeles undercover agent had been calling Gavota in Chicago. Sammy seemed convinced that Zaffuto was legitimate and made plans for Benny to meet him and exchange money for drugs, but Benny's imprisonment had made it imperative that Sammy himself close the deal.

       He called Zaffuto before he left Chicago. "I'm going to L.A. on business," Sammy told him. "I'll be at my west coast estate tomorrow night. I'm not staying long and want this piece of business transacted in a hurry, Write down my address. Be there at midnight. Got that?"

       "Gotchya. I'll call from my car phone ten minutes from your house."

       The night of the sting operation, the phone rang in the Gavota estate at precisely ten minutes to twelve. The recording device in the van started rolling.

       When Sammy answered, Zaffuto said gruffly. "It's me, Zuffoto, I'm on my way. You ready?"

       "You got the stuff?" Sammy asked.

       "Whadda ya think?" Zaffuto grunted, "yeah, I got the stuff. You got the money?"

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       "That's a stupid question. You think I'd come to this crazy city after an earthquake if I didn't have the dough? My word is good as gold." Sammy coughed directly into the mouthpiece.

       Zuffuto mumbled. "Yeah, yeah, everyone's word is good. I'll be there in ten minutes."

       "No sooner, no later." Sammy coughed again and hung up.

       "Zuffoto's doing great," Agent Yates grinned.

       Alex nodded. "He should. He was an actor, and for this he should get the academy award."

       "He gave up acting for this?" Yates whistled. "Why?"

       "His only son, a teenager, died of an overdose, and he's determined to fight the dealers. He's out to get these guys for feeding drugs to our kids. We've been trying to get Gavota for years. Now we've got our big break. Gavota's been careful to personally keep far from trouble. But he's lost so many men, he has to deal with Lansing personally. Lucky for us. Sammy's out for Lansing's blood, and at the same time thinks he's making a chunk of money. When Zuffoto completes the deal, we're going in."

       Alex's car phone rang. It was Zuffoto. "I'm turning onto Topanga Canyon Blvd. How does it look there?"

       "As far as we can tell, Sammy has one guy in the house." Alex said. "Sammy and one of his Chicago men. Make it clear that you're exchanging drugs for money. The moment the transaction's complete, we'll come in and make the arrest. We've got the place wired and we'll know precisely when it's a done deal."

       At precisely midnight, Alex and his men sat in the parked van and watched Jimmy Zuffoto enter the estate. The conversation between the two men developed as they'd hoped.

       Within ten minutes, Alex nodded to his men. "The money is exchanged, We're going in."

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       When Alex and his men burst into the house and confronted Gavota, the outrage on Sammy's florid face gave Alex a rush of pleasure. He read Gavota his rights and personally handcuffed him.

       Sammy glared at Zuffoto. "I shoulda known, dealing with an outsider never did come to no good Who are you anyway? Who sent you to me?"

       "Who do you think I am, Gavota? You didn't look where you were going this time."

       Two police cars parked at the end of the street, slowly tooled up to Sammy's entrance. Police officers surrounded Gavota and his man and propelled them into their vehicle.

       "You guys go with them, one in each car." Alex told Zaffuto and his man. "I've got some unfinished business."

       Alex watched the police cars drive away and as he got behind the wheel of his car, he couldn't stop smiling. Mission accomplished! Gavota would be extradited back to Chicago, and put away for a long, long time. And, Philip Lansing and Jenny would be free.

       Alex called Tim O'Reilly from his hotel with the news of Gavota's arrest. "Now that their leader is down, our problems with the Gavota mob should be over."

       O'Reilly was exuberant. "How did he take it?"

       "How do you think? Ranting, raving, shouting that Lansing should be the one arrested. Claims he stole millions from them. Talk about honor among thieves."

       "And Lansing? How's he doing?"

       "Not good, Tim. He had a heart attack during the earthquake. He's drifting in and out of a coma."

       "Where are you staying, Alex?"

       "Holiday Inn in the Valley."

       "And Jenny? Where's she staying?"

       "She's sleeping in a chair in her dad's room at the hospital."

       "Do you suppose it's true about Lansing stealing from the mob?"

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       "Don't know and unless he comes to, we may never know." Alex glanced down at the briefcase at his feet. "Unless..."

       "Unless what?"

       "I'll tell you later. I'm working on an angle here."

       "You did great, Kendall. Now come home."

       "Uh... Tim, I'd like to stay a while. Jenny's alone in the city, and she'll need some help to get her dad home."

       "You are involved with her, aren't you Kendall?"

       "She didn't take too kindly to my insinuation that her dad might be involved with Gavota."

       "I told you not to mention that."

       "I made a big mistake there."

       "Okay, I'll give you a bonus for bringing Sammy and his men in. Take a week's vacation."

       "It's no vacation here, believe me. The city's a mess and the aftershocks are nerve racking. But I do have unfinished business."

       "Keep in touch, you hear?"

       Alex grinned as he replaced the receiver and picked up Jenny's leather briefcase. He glanced at his watch. He was eager to close his part of the case with Gavota and take the briefcase to Jenny. Maybe that little gesture would return her dazzling smile and maybe if he was careful she'd direct it at him.

       The earthquake had been a blessed intervention for the Chicago agency. Benny Berkowitz and his men were dead. The fallout from losing his men brought their prime target, Sammy Gavota, to Los Angeles. The rest, Alex smiled to himself, was history.

       But it wasn't over and he knew it. Philip Lansing was a suspect. He'd been protected by the Program, but now the truth would surface. Had he actually pilfered funds? If he had, where was the money?

       He'd done his duty as an agent, but he'd become foolishly mesmerized by a woman. He couldn't stop thinking about Jenny Lansing. Every instinct shouted that she was the girl he wanted, the girl he would have

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no matter how long it took. Everything about her appealed to him. Her flashing green eyes, the tilt of her chin, her dogged devotion to her father, and the sadness on her beautiful face. He thought of the morning of the earthquake when he'd held her close, though only for moments. She fit perfectly in his arms and that's where she belonged, and someday that's where she'd be.

       He'd returned Fitzgerald's Taurus before the sting and rented a blue Chevy from a local agency. Now, he drove carefully through shattered neighborhoods toward Valley Presbyterian Hospital rehearsing the speech he'd present to Jenny when he turned over her briefcase.

       Of course, he could open the briefcase and end the mystery right here, But he wanted Jenny to unseal the envelope.

       Excitement and anticipation set his heart to hammering as he sprinted up the stairs to the fourth floor.

       The Marshall opened the door to Philip's room. It was dark. Jenny wasn't there. Philip was still unconscious. Hooked up to bleeping machines, IV bottles pumping liquid into his arms stood like sentinels at his bedside.

       For long moments, Alex stared at Philip, trying to imagine what secrets were dormant in his mind, secrets they may never learn. He turned and walked out of the room.

       "Where is she?" he asked the Marshall.

       "She's in the cafeteria."

       "Thanks," Alex shifted the briefcase to his other hand and dashed down the stairs.

       He envisioned Jenny's face when he turned over the briefcase. She'd smile in the fantastic way she had, her green eyes flashing with gratitude.

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And, he hoped the tiny sparks that had been ignited between them would blaze into glowing and lasting flames.

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